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The apocryphal gospels are non-canonical writings of a motley variety about the purported deeds and revelations of Jesus Christ. Though the Greek word apocrypha originally meant "hidden," the church fathers used it to describe spurious writings foisted as gospels. Irenaeus refers to 'an unspeakable number of apocryphal and spurious writings, which they themselves i. Gnostic Influence Many of these works were influenced by gnosticism. The word gnostic means "one who has knowledge. The gnostic view of God is contrary to the Bible. In addition, the gnostics considered that all matter is evil.
An example of gnostic writing can be found in the Gospel of Philip. The original Gospel of Philip was probably written sometime during the second century A. The influence of gnosticism and its emphasis on secret knowledge can be clearly seen in this work. The Gospel of Philip reads,. The Logos said: If you know the truth the truth will make you free. Ignorance is a slave, knowledge is freedom. When we recognize the truth we shall find the fruits of truth in our hearts.
If we unite with it, we will bring our fulfillment. Different Level Other statements show that they are on a different level than Scripture. A Gentile man does not die, for he has never lived that he should die. Adam came into being from two virgins, from the Spirit and from the virgin earth.
Because of this Christ was born of a virgin, in order that he might set in order the stumbling which came to pass at the beginning. Second-Hand Sources The pseudepigrapha, apart from being forgeries, were also written long after, in some cases hundreds of years after, the New Testament events. The writers were not eyewitnesses to the life of Christ or to the events of the early church. This is another reason to reject the testimony which they give.
Gospel of Thomas One of the most prominent of all the forgeries is the Gospel of Thomas. Consisting of sayings of Jesus, it is the most extensive collection of non-biblical sayings of Jesus that still exist. The Gospel of Thomas begins as follows:. These are the secret words which the living Jesus spoke and Didymus Judas Thomas wrote. And He said: Whosoever finds the explanation of these words shall not taste death. Incorrect Name The author is not Thomas. In the four Gospels, Thomas is referred to as either Didymus or Thomas, not both at once.
Didymus is the word for "twin" in both Greek and Aramaic, so the author of the Gospel of Thomas must not have been aware of this linguistic connotation. Secret Approach The secret approach found in the Gospel of Thomas is typical of the writings of the gnostics. The four Gospels are open about the ways of salvation and the kingdom of God while the Gospel of Thomas views truth from a hidden vantage point. There is no historical setting for the statements. The Gospel of Thomas is a compilation of sayings without the inclusion of important historical events as recorded in the Gospels. We are not told when or under what circumstances the statements were made.
Contradicts Four Gospels Many of the sayings are contradictory to those we have in the Gospels. For example, saying says:. Jesus said, 'See, I shall lead her, so that I will make her male, that she too may become a living spirit, resembling you males. For every woman who makes herself male will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. In the Gospel of Thomas He is one who points the way by which an individual can attain the knowledge of God. These reasons demonstrate that the Gospel of Thomas is a forgery rather than a legitimate work written by one of Jesus' apostles.
Aquarian Gospel of Jesus Christ One alternative explanation of the life and ministry of Jesus that has caused considerable interest is the Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ. This work was written by Levi Dowling The result is a contradictory mixture of Christian science and occultic thought.
The name is derived from the astrological idea that a new Aquarian age has come upon us, bringing with it the need for a new spiritual gospel, the Aquarian gospel. Some of the material in the Aquarian Gospel is borrowed from the ancient Gospel of James, a well-known forgery in the early years of the church. The most prominent part of the book deals with the education and travel of Jesus. According to the Aquarian Gospel, Jesus first studied under the Jewish teacher Hillel and then went to India to spend time with their holy men.
His learning also supposedly took Him to Tibet, Persia. Assyria, Greece, and Egypt. It was in Egypt that Jesus was said to have joined the sacred brotherhood. He passed through seven degrees and emerged as the Logos. In Alexandria a council of seven sages was held where they formulated seven great religious postulates and ordained Jesus for the work of the ministry. The Aquarian Gospel then rewrites the four gospels according to its own particular viewpoint. The end of the story has Jesus appearing in a materialized body to people in India, Persia, Greece, and other countries.
Evaluation Like many previous attempts, the Aquarian Gospel attempts to give an explanation of the wisdom and character of Jesus apart from the biblical depiction. Dowling's reconstruction shows obvious borrowing from the Ancient Gospel of James, as well as familiarity with a nineteenth century works, Notovitch's Unknown Life of Jesus Christ.
The book begins with an historical inaccuracy: "Augustus Caesar reigned and Herod Antipas was ruler in Jerusalem. A crucial problem with the Aquarian Gospel concerns its scenario of the source of Jesus' teachings. If Jesus obtained His wisdom from the masters of India, Greece, and other countries, then why doesn't His teaching reflect it? The teachings of Jesus, as recorded in the Gospels, are in direct conflict with every central belief of Hinduism, Buddhism, and the other religions with which He supposedly came into contact!
The simple fact is that we have in the Gospels a firsthand account of the life and ministry of Jesus. The Aquarian Gospel is a false portrait of the life of Christ, not based upon historical records or eyewitness testimony but rather upon the recollections of an ancient forgery and the imagination of a twentieth-century writer. It has no value whatsoever in providing new or accurate information on the life of Christ. The work is also known as the "Report of Pilate" or "Archko Library. Its existence can be traced back to Rev. The success of the "Report of Pilate" led Mahan to make some more "discoveries" including: an interview with the shepherds who were given the announcement of Christ's birth, Gamaliel's interview with Joseph and Mary, Eli's story of the Magi, and other previously unknown interviews surrounding the life and ministry of Jesus.
Mahan claimed these "interviews" were translated from ancient manuscripts in Rome or Constantinople. The picture of Jesus in his interview with Pilate is romantic and theatrical, and the Pilate reflected in the "Report" is historically improbable. The whole work is a weak, crude fancy, a jumble of high-sounding but meaningless words, and hardly worth serious criticism. It is difficult to see how it could have deceived anyone The supposed references to Josephus's Jewish Wars The statement that Josephus in his Antiquities refers to Jesus in more than fifty places is false That Tacitus wrote his history of Agricola in A.
As can be imagined, the "Report of Pilate" as well as the later interviews were immediately exposed as frauds. It was noticed, for instance, that entire pages of Eli's story of the Magi were copied verbatim from the novel Ben Hur. Unhappily, people continue to read and believe these fraudulent works although they have no basis in fact.
Hone's book was copied from two earlier one's published in and Thus the materials found in the"Lost Books of the Bible" were written years ago. Since the time of the original wilting of the lost books, the field of manuscript studies has made tremendous advances but none of this has been taken into account by those who publish these works. These were so-called infancy gospels that were written to fill in the details of the early unrecorded years of the life of Christ.
These works include stories of Jesus forming clay figures of animals and birds which He makes walk, fly, and eat. Another account has a child who runs into Jesus falling down dead. These examples are representative of the fanciful nature of the accounts. Jesus' reply to the letter is also contained. These works were written in the third century.
Other works found among the lost books include the Apostles' Creed and the spurious letter from Paul to the Laodiceans. These books have been called "outlaw" Scriptures by some. But this is not the case, for none of these works were ever thought of as part of the New Testament. Anyone who claims these works were suppressed by the church is speaking out of ignorance or a desire to deceive. It is obvious from the date of composition of these works that they cannot be considered on the same plane as Holy Scripture, which was written by eyewitnesses or people who recorded eyewitness testimony of the life and ministry of Jesus.
Farrar wrote the following that is still true today:. The Four Gospels superseded all others and won their way into universal acceptance by their intrinsic value and authority. After so many salutary losses we still possess a rich collection of Apocryphal Gospels, and, if they serve no other good purpose, they have this value, that they prove for us undoubtedly the unique and transcendent superiority of the sacred records.
These bear the stamp of absolute truthfulness, all the more decisively when placed in contrast with the writings which show signs of willful falsity. We escape their lying magic to find support and help from the genuine gospels. And here we take refuge with the greater confidence because the ruins which lie around the ancient archives of the Church look like a guarantee of the enduring strength and greatness of those archives themselves F. Farrar, The Messages of the Books , p. Roberts and J. Donaldson, the editors of the AnteNicene Library , said the other gospels offer We conclude that any other book apart from the New Testament that attempts to fill in the gaps of the life of Christ only reveals the superiority of the four Gospels.
There is evidence that the canon of Scripture was complete in the first century. Has God, since that time, revealed anything that is to be added to Holy Scripture? There has to be evidence to back up the claim. The question Is, "Does the evidence support the claim that God spoke through them? Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world 1 John When we test the claims of those who have brought forth a "new Scripture" we find them to be untrue.
The downfall of all the books that have had inspiration claimed for them is that they present a different revelation from what has previously been recorded. They contradict the Bible. For example, the Koran says that Jesus was not the Son of God and that He did not die upon the cross for the sins of the world. The sacred books of Mormonism teach that there exist many gods rather than the one God the Bible speaks of.
In addition, Mormonism teaches that each male can someday become a god himself, Mormonism also denies the doctrine of the Trinity. No Book Qualifies Every book written since the completion of the Bible that claims to be further revelation from God fails on the same ground. These works also deny salvation by grace through faith. They preached a different gospel. The Apostle Paul warned the church at Galatia about such people. I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed Galatians , 8.
No Evidence Furthermore, there is no substantiating evidence such as fulfilled prophecy to demonstrate the books are of divine inspiration. Thus, as we examine the various books that have been written since the completion of the New Testament that have claimed to be further revelation from God, we find them coming short of the mark. The Bible warns:. Every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him.
Do not add to His words, lest He reprove you and you be found a liar Proverbs , 6. We have seen that the canon was closed in the first century, and that since then God has not revealed anything on the level with Holy Scripture. Westminster Confession "The Westminster Confession," a seventeenth-century statement of faith, says concerning the Bible,. The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men "Westminster Confession," According to this statement, which sums up the Protestant view of Scripture, nothing is to be added or subtracted from the Bible.
The revelation from God to man has been completed. Some have appealed to the following verses in the Book of Revelation. For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life Revelation , This is only speaking of the Book of Revelation. It is not a commandment against adding any other book to Scripture.
If taken literally, then you could not have any other book in Scripture but the Book of Revelation! Yet there is a principle here that is clearly taught. No one is to add or to take away from the revealed Word of God. I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints Jude 3.
This verse teaches that a body of truth from God has been delivered to man and that this faith has been wholly delivered. This seems to indicate that no further revelation from God is necessary. God has told us in Scripture everything that we need to know about who He is, who we are, and what will happen to the earth in the future. For I am the Lord, I do not change Malachi The Bible says clearly that the faith has been completely revealed.
Therefore, If any new revelation were to come from God, it would be consistent with past revelations. Even if a work met all of the above criteria, it would not necessarily be the Word of God. While theoretically it is possible that God could add something to what He has previously revealed, it is highly unlikely that this would be the case. The faith has already been delivered to mankind. Any further word from God to man is not necessary. The canon of Scripture is complete. After considering the subject of the canon of Scripture we can make the following conclusions:.
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Believe We probably have a lot more in common than you think. It will take away none of your energy, vitality or joy. On the contrary, you will become what the Father had in mind when he created you, and you will be faithful to your deepest self. To depend on God sets us free from every form of enslavement and leads us to recognize our great dignity. But she came to understand the profound truth that God, and not man, is the true Master of every human being, of every human life.
To the extent that each Christian grows in holiness, he or she will bear greater fruit for our world. Do not be afraid to set your sights higher, to allow yourself to be loved and liberated by God. Do not be afraid to let yourself be guided by the Holy Spirit. Here I would like to mention two false forms of holiness that can lead us astray: gnosticism and pelagianism. They are two heresies from early Christian times, yet they continue to plague us. In our times too, many Christians, perhaps without realizing it, can be seduced by these deceptive ideas, which reflect an anthropocentric immanentism disguised as Catholic truth.
An intellect without God and without flesh. Certainly this is a superficial conceit: there is much movement on the surface, but the mind is neither deeply moved nor affected. Still, gnosticism exercises a deceptive attraction for some people, since the gnostic approach is strict and allegedly pure, and can appear to possess a certain harmony or order that encompasses everything.
Here we have to be careful. I am not referring to a rationalism inimical to Christian faith.
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It can be present within the Church, both among the laity in parishes and teachers of philosophy and theology in centres of formation. Gnostics think that their explanations can make the entirety of the faith and the Gospel perfectly comprehensible. They absolutize their own theories and force others to submit to their way of thinking. A healthy and humble use of reason in order to reflect on the theological and moral teaching of the Gospel is one thing. Gnosticism is one of the most sinister ideologies because, while unduly exalting knowledge or a specific experience, it considers its own vision of reality to be perfect.
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Thus, perhaps without even realizing it, this ideology feeds on itself and becomes even more myopic. It can become all the more illusory when it masks itself as a disembodied spirituality. When somebody has an answer for every question, it is a sign that they are not on the right road. They may well be false prophets, who use religion for their own purposes, to promote their own psychological or intellectual theories.
God infinitely transcends us; he is full of surprises. We are not the ones to determine when and how we will encounter him; the exact times and places of that encounter are not up to us. Nor can we claim to say where God is not, because God is mysteriously present in the life of every person, in a way that he himself chooses, and we cannot exclude this by our presumed certainties. If we let ourselves be guided by the Spirit rather than our own preconceptions, we can and must try to find the Lord in every human life. This is part of the mystery that a gnostic mentality cannot accept, since it is beyond its control.
It is not easy to grasp the truth that we have received from the Lord. And it is even more difficult to express it. A dangerous confusion can arise. When Saint Francis of Assisi saw that some of his disciples were engaged in teaching, he wanted to avoid the temptation to gnosticism. Gnosticism gave way to another heresy, likewise present in our day. As time passed, many came to realize that it is not knowledge that betters us or makes us saints, but the kind of life we lead. But this subtly led back to the old error of the gnostics, which was simply transformed rather than eliminated.
The same power that the gnostics attributed to the intellect, others now began to attribute to the human will, to personal effort. This was the case with the pelagians and semi-pelagians. Now it was not intelligence that took the place of mystery and grace, but our human will. Ultimately, the lack of a heartfelt and prayerful acknowledgment of our limitations prevents grace from working more effectively within us, for no room is left for bringing about the potential good that is part of a sincere and genuine journey of growth.
That kind of thinking would show too much confidence in our own abilities. Underneath our orthodoxy, our attitudes might not correspond to our talk about the need for grace, and in specific situations we can end up putting little trust in it. Unless we can acknowledge our concrete and limited situation, we will not be able to see the real and possible steps that the Lord demands of us at every moment, once we are attracted and empowered by his gift.
Grace acts in history; ordinarily it takes hold of us and transforms us progressively. In order to be blameless, as he would have us, we need to live humbly in his presence, cloaked in his glory; we need to walk in union with him, recognizing his constant love in our lives. We need to lose our fear before that presence which can only be for our good.
God is the Father who gave us life and loves us greatly. Once we accept him, and stop trying to live our lives without him, the anguish of loneliness will disappear cf. Ps In this way we will know the pleasing and perfect will of the Lord cf. Rom and allow him to mould us like a potter cf. Is So often we say that God dwells in us, but it is better to say that we dwell in him, that he enables us to dwell in his light and love. He is our temple; we ask to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of our life cf. In him is our holiness. The Church has repeatedly taught that we are justified not by our own works or efforts, but by the grace of the Lord, who always takes the initiative.
The Fathers of the Church, even before Saint Augustine, clearly expressed this fundamental belief. Saint John Chrysostom said that God pours into us the very source of all his gifts even before we enter into battle. This is one of the great convictions that the Church has come firmly to hold. It is so clearly expressed in the word of God that there can be no question of it.
Like the supreme commandment of love, this truth should affect the way we live, for it flows from the heart of the Gospel and demands that we not only accept it intellectually but also make it a source of contagious joy. Still, some Christians insist on taking another path, that of justification by their own efforts, the worship of the human will and their own abilities. The result is a self-centred and elitist complacency, bereft of true love. Some Christians spend their time and energy on these things, rather than letting themselves be led by the Spirit in the way of love, rather than being passionate about communicating the beauty and the joy of the Gospel and seeking out the lost among the immense crowds that thirst for Christ.
Not infrequently, contrary to the promptings of the Spirit, the life of the Church can become a museum piece or the possession of a select few.
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This can occur when some groups of Christians give excessive importance to certain rules, customs or ways of acting. The Gospel then tends to be reduced and constricted, deprived of its simplicity, allure and savour. This may well be a subtle form of pelagianism, for it appears to subject the life of grace to certain human structures. It can affect groups, movements and communities, and it explains why so often they begin with an intense life in the Spirit, only to end up fossilized… or corrupt. Once we believe that everything depends on human effort as channelled by ecclesial rules and structures, we unconsciously complicate the Gospel and become enslaved to a blueprint that leaves few openings for the working of grace.
To avoid this, we do well to keep reminding ourselves that there is a hierarchy of virtues that bids us seek what is essential. The primacy belongs to the theological virtues, which have God as their object and motive. At the centre is charity. In other words, amid the thicket of precepts and prescriptions, Jesus clears a way to seeing two faces, that of the Father and that of our brother.
He does not give us two more formulas or two more commands. He gives us two faces, or better yet, one alone: the face of God reflected in so many other faces. Indeed, with the scraps of this frail humanity, the Lord will shape his final work of art. Surely these two: the Lord and our neighbour. These two riches do not disappear! May the Lord set the Church free from these new forms of gnosticism and pelagianism that weigh her down and block her progress along the path to holiness!
These aberrations take various shapes, according to the temperament and character of each person. So I encourage everyone to reflect and discern before God whether they may be present in their lives. There can be any number of theories about what constitutes holiness, with various explanations and distinctions. Jesus explained with great simplicity what it means to be holy when he gave us the Beatitudes cf. Mt ; Lk We have to do, each in our own way, what Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount.
It expresses the fact that those faithful to God and his word, by their self-giving, gain true happiness. The Beatitudes are in no way trite or undemanding, quite the opposite. We can only practise them if the Holy Spirit fills us with his power and frees us from our weakness, our selfishness, our complacency and our pride.
Let us listen once more to Jesus, with all the love and respect that the Master deserves. Let us allow his words to unsettle us, to challenge us and to demand a real change in the way we live. Otherwise, holiness will remain no more than an empty word. We turn now to the individual Beatitudes in the Gospel of Matthew cf. Mt The Gospel invites us to peer into the depths of our heart, to see where we find our security in life. Usually the rich feel secure in their wealth, and think that, if that wealth is threatened, the whole meaning of their earthly life can collapse.
Jesus himself tells us this in the parable of the rich fool: he speaks of a man who was sure of himself, yet foolish, for it did not dawn on him that he might die that very day cf. Lk Wealth ensures nothing. In this way, we miss out on the greatest treasure of all. That is why Jesus calls blessed those who are poor in spirit, those who have a poor heart, for there the Lord can enter with his perennial newness.
In this way, he too invites us to live a plain and austere life. These are strong words in a world that from the beginning has been a place of conflict, disputes and enmity on all sides, where we constantly pigeonhole others on the basis of their ideas, their customs and even their way of speaking or dressing. Ultimately, it is the reign of pride and vanity, where each person thinks he or she has the right to dominate others. Nonetheless, impossible as it may seem, Jesus proposes a different way of doing things: the way of meekness.
This is what we see him doing with his disciples. If we are constantly upset and impatient with others, we will end up drained and weary. But if we regard the faults and limitations of others with tenderness and meekness, without an air of superiority, we can actually help them and stop wasting our energy on useless complaining. Paul speaks of meekness as one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit cf. Meekness is yet another expression of the interior poverty of those who put their trust in God alone.
Indeed, in the Bible the same word — anawim — usually refers both to the poor and to the meek. At times they may, but so be it. It is always better to be meek, for then our deepest desires will be fulfilled. In every situation, the meek put their hope in the Lord, and those who hope for him shall possess the land… and enjoy the fullness of peace cf.
The world tells us exactly the opposite: entertainment, pleasure, diversion and escape make for the good life. The worldly person ignores problems of sickness or sorrow in the family or all around him; he averts his gaze. The world has no desire to mourn; it would rather disregard painful situations, cover them up or hide them. Much energy is expended on fleeing from situations of suffering in the belief that reality can be concealed. But the cross can never be absent.
Such persons are unafraid to share in the suffering of others; they do not flee from painful situations. They discover the meaning of life by coming to the aid of those who suffer, understanding their anguish and bringing relief. They sense that the other is flesh of our flesh, and are not afraid to draw near, even to touch their wounds.
They feel compassion for others in such a way that all distance vanishes. Hunger and thirst are intense experiences, since they involve basic needs and our instinct for survival. There are those who desire justice and yearn for righteousness with similar intensity. Jesus says that they will be satisfied, for sooner or later justice will come. We can cooperate to make that possible, even if we may not always see the fruit of our efforts. Jesus offers a justice other than that of the world, so often marred by petty interests and manipulated in various ways.
Experience shows how easy it is to become mired in corruption, ensnared in the daily politics of quid pro quo , where everything becomes business. How many people suffer injustice, standing by powerlessly while others divvy up the good things of this life. Some give up fighting for real justice and opt to follow in the train of the winners.
This has nothing to do with the hunger and thirst for justice that Jesus praises. Mercy has two aspects. It involves giving, helping and serving others, but it also includes forgiveness and understanding. The yardstick we use for understanding and forgiving others will measure the forgiveness we receive.
The yardstick we use for giving will measure what we receive. We should never forget this. We need to think of ourselves as an army of the forgiven. All of us have been looked upon with divine compassion. This Beatitude speaks of those whose hearts are simple, pure and undefiled, for a heart capable of love admits nothing that might harm, weaken or endanger that love. The Bible uses the heart to describe our real intentions, the things we truly seek and desire, apart from all appearances.
God wants to speak to our hearts cf. Hos ; there he desires to write his law cf. Jer In a word, he wants to give us a new heart cf. Ezek Jn Certainly there can be no love without works of love, but this Beatitude reminds us that the Lord expects a commitment to our brothers and sisters that comes from the heart. A heart that loves God and neighbour cf. Mt , genuinely and not merely in words, is a pure heart; it can see God. This Beatitude makes us think of the many endless situations of war in our world.
Yet we ourselves are often a cause of conflict or at least of misunderstanding. For example, I may hear something about someone and I go off and repeat it. I may even embellish it the second time around and keep spreading it… And the more harm it does, the more satisfaction I seem to derive from it.
The world of gossip, inhabited by negative and destructive people, does not bring peace. Jesus himself warns us that the path he proposes goes against the flow, even making us challenge society by the way we live and, as a result, becoming a nuisance. He reminds us how many people have been, and still are, persecuted simply because they struggle for justice, because they take seriously their commitment to God and to others.
In living the Gospel, we cannot expect that everything will be easy, for the thirst for power and worldly interests often stands in our way. As a result, the Beatitudes are not easy to live out; any attempt to do so will be viewed negatively, regarded with suspicion, and met with ridicule. Whatever weariness and pain we may experience in living the commandment of love and following the way of justice, the cross remains the source of our growth and sanctification.
Here we are speaking about inevitable persecution, not the kind of persecution we might bring upon ourselves by our mistreatment of others. The saints are not odd and aloof, unbearable because of their vanity, negativity and bitterness. The Apostles of Christ were not like that. Persecutions are not a reality of the past, for today too we experience them, whether by the shedding of blood, as is the case with so many contemporary martyrs, or by more subtle means, by slander and lies. At other times, persecution can take the form of gibes that try to caricature our faith and make us seem ridiculous.
Holiness, then, is not about swooning in mystic rapture. Given these uncompromising demands of Jesus, it is my duty to ask Christians to acknowledge and accept them in a spirit of genuine openness, sine glossa.
If I encounter a person sleeping outdoors on a cold night, I can view him or her as an annoyance, an idler, an obstacle in my path, a troubling sight, a problem for politicians to sort out, or even a piece of refuse cluttering a public space. Or I can respond with faith and charity, and see in this person a human being with a dignity identical to my own, a creature infinitely loved by the Father, an image of God, a brother or sister redeemed by Jesus Christ.
That is what it is to be a Christian! Can holiness somehow be understood apart from this lively recognition of the dignity of each human being? For Christians, this involves a constant and healthy unease. Even if helping one person alone could justify all our efforts, it would not be enough. The bishops of Canada made this clear when they noted, for example, that the biblical understanding of the jubilee year was about more than simply performing certain good works.
Ideologies striking at the heart of the Gospel. I regret that ideologies lead us at times to two harmful errors. On the one hand, there is the error of those Christians who separate these Gospel demands from their personal relationship with the Lord, from their interior union with him, from openness to his grace. For these great saints, mental prayer, the love of God and the reading of the Gospel in no way detracted from their passionate and effective commitment to their neighbours; quite the opposite.
The other harmful ideological error is found in those who find suspect the social engagement of others, seeing it as superficial, worldly, secular, materialist, communist or populist. Or they relativize it, as if there are other more important matters, or the only thing that counts is one particular ethical issue or cause that they themselves defend.
Our defence of the innocent unborn, for example, needs to be clear, firm and passionate, for at stake is the dignity of a human life, which is always sacred and demands love for each person, regardless of his or her stage of development. Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection. We often hear it said that, with respect to relativism and the flaws of our present world, the situation of migrants, for example, is a lesser issue.
That a politician looking for votes might say such a thing is understandable, but not a Christian, for whom the only proper attitude is to stand in the shoes of those brothers and sisters of ours who risk their lives to offer a future to their children. Can we not realize that this is exactly what Jesus demands of us, when he tells us that in welcoming the stranger we welcome him cf.
Mt ? This is not a notion invented by some Pope, or a momentary fad. We may think that we give glory to God only by our worship and prayer, or simply by following certain ethical norms. It is true that the primacy belongs to our relationship with God, but we cannot forget that the ultimate criterion on which our lives will be judged is what we have done for others. Prayer is most precious, for it nourishes a daily commitment to love. Similarly, the best way to discern if our prayer is authentic is to judge to what extent our life is being transformed in the light of mercy.
Here I think of Saint Thomas Aquinas, who asked which actions of ours are noblest, which external works best show our love for God. For he does not need our sacrifices, but wishes them to be offered to him, in order to stir our devotion and to profit our neighbour. Those who really wish to give glory to God by their lives, who truly long to grow in holiness, are called to be single-minded and tenacious in their practice of the works of mercy.